Can Seattle weather the storm if Boeing shuts down 737 MAX line?

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A 737 MAX landing near Seattle. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

With Boeing in the midst of a tough decision over whether it should completely shut down production of its 737 MAX line, could this negatively impact the Puget Sound region’s economy? According to one expert, the answer is both yes and no.

“Anybody who wants the long-term success of Seattle and a thriving economy for people of various incomes, we should be rooting for Boeing to succeed and … navigate through this challenge,” University of Washington professor Jeff Schulman told KIRO Radio’s Candy, Mike and Todd Show.

Boeing’s been a pillar of Seattle’s economy for the better part of over a century, operating as one of the state’s largest private employers, the second largest defense contractor in the U.S., and among the largest exporters by dollar value in the country.

That all being said, it’s safe to say that shutting down the 737 MAX — which is constructed at Boeing’s Renton factory — could send ripples throughout the Puget Sound area, especially if employees end up losing their jobs.

“It’s going to have an impact on lives of people around the region,” said Schulman. “Many of these people are likely to be individuals who are already struggling with rising housing prices and the cost of living. You also have to realize that Boeing has a pretty big philanthropic presence here in the state of Washington and the Puget Sound region — Boys and Girls Club, local arts organizations, even my employer the University of Washington has benefited from the generosity of Boeing.”

Still, Schulman also points out that this won’t likely impact the average Seattleite.

“You have to realize, this is unlikely to rise to the consciousness of most Seattle residents, and most people in this region,” he described. “Think about how people are recognizing the latest economic boom. You’ve got rising housing prices. You’ve got a nation-leading number of cranes in the sky, so we’ve got construction everywhere. And then we’ve got new restaurants and nightlife, and just a whole bunch of new businesses popping up in communities all around the region. What’s happening with Boeing is unlikely to change that.”

That idea centers around the fact that Boeing’s presence is spread across the Puget Sound region, rather than concentrated in just a handful of neighborhoods. Pair that with Amazon, Google, Facebook, T-Mobile, and Apple hiring tens of thousands of highly-paid workers in Seattle and beyond, and there are ways the region can mitigate a downturn from a company like Boeing.

Thanks to that near-constant influx of skilled workers and economic opportunity, Schulman doesn’t see Seattle suffering too much if the 737 MAX does eventually go to the airplane farm upstate.

“We’ve got such a critical mass of companies here, and such a critical mass of talent and an educated workforce, that Seattle is going to keep going regardless of what happens here,” he noted.

Listen to The Candy, Mike, and Todd Show weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.